The match had drifted into the waiting-for-the-second-new-ball section.
It’s a well-recognized lull in Check cricket, that interval during which stress eases and a spotlight wanes, when seashore balls float across the stands as various leisure and the haziness of a heat summer time’s afternoon settles over the thoughts and physique.
It’s when the spinner is on and the brand new ball bowlers bide their time and the scoreboard’s most attention-grabbing quantity shouldn’t be runs or wickets however overs, ticking nearer to that magic 80 mark, after we can all snap again to consideration and wriggle our numbing bottoms to the sting of our seats.
The second session had handed with out incident, as Rassie van der Dussen and Keegan Peterson confirmed quiet defiance after South Africa’s prime order have been blown away by England’s line-and-length self-discipline of the morning.
There was a lot to admire of their staunch willpower, significantly that of van der Dussen, who batted with a damaged finger that can stop him from taking any additional half on this sequence.
He was clearly batting by ache, his left hand coming off the bat repeatedly after making contact with the ball however his 87-run partnership with Peterson had ideas turning in the direction of a doable fourth day, though a lead was nonetheless far off.
Ben Stokes picked up the outdated ball within the final hour earlier than tea, bowling in tandem with the miserly Leach.
Whereas the waiting-for-the-second-new-ball lull settled across the floor, Stokes thoughts was ticking over, all the time searching for the second to interrupt by.
He was preserving tabs with Joe Root, asking his former captain when he thought the ball was beginning to reverse as a result of that’s when he is aware of he’s at his most harmful.
He was additionally eyeing the overs remaining till the second new ball, however not as a result of he was marking time; he needed to interrupt issues open to make issues simpler for James Anderson and Ollie Robinson when the second arrived.
His troublesome left knee was discomforting him sufficient that, a number of instances, he flexed and straightened it repeatedly between deliveries, but it surely didn’t stop him throwing every part behind every ball.
That’s the factor with Stokes, it generally appear as if each ball is an effort ball, one after one other after one other.
And so it was earlier than the break, a continuing barrage of sweaty, muscular deliveries that saved van der Dussen and Peterson in defensive mode; six overs, two maidens and simply eight runs.
After tea Stokes took up the ball once more, now 66 overs outdated and pitched it as much as van der Dussen, the ball leaping sharply and catching an edge, then almost bouncing on to the stumps.
The following supply was additionally full and compelled van der Dussen to defend off the again foot; jerking his hand off the deal with because the pressure jarred his fractured finger.
After which the dam burst and blew the afternoon lull at Outdated Trafford to smithereens as Stokes steamed in and swung the ball away from the batter, shaving the sting of van der Dussen’s free flail and into the keeper’s gloves.
Now the group may sense the looming collapse and their light buzzing swelling into hungry roars.
The ball was greater than 67 overs outdated but it surely was dynamite in Stokes proper hand.
One other effort ball — what else? —this one on the tightest of strains, rearing up brutally out of nowhere and following Peterson as he arched his again and tried to get his palms out of the way in which to no avail.
In two overs Stokes had damaged South Africa’s stoic resistance and the brand new ball was nonetheless to come back.
Anderson and Robinson employed it completely when it arrived; the ultimate 5 wickets fell in 5 overs and one ball.
Stokes had bowled 13 straight overs damaged solely by the tea break. It was his third longest spell in Check cricket; solely within the well-known 2019 Ashes Check at Headingley, when he bowled 16 straight, and at Lord’s towards West Indies in 2017, 15 on that event, had he bowled extra.
His publish tea figures learn eight overs, one maiden, 2 for 22 and his full spell had yielded two wickets for simply 30 runs.
“If you find yourself bowling with the older ball when nothing is de facto taking place, it’s important to create your individual energies and personal theatre round that,” Stokes mentioned after the match. “It’s one thing I’ve finished over my profession with the older ball, simply to attempt to run in and hit the wicket as onerous as I can and attempt to make one thing out of nothing. Then let the new-ball bowlers take the rewards on the finish.”
On the day past, Stokes’ century had helped England take a stranglehold on the match.
On the third and closing day, his means to create one thing out of nothing with the ball opened the door for the ultimate crushing blows, an innings and 85-run victory.
It was one other show of his all-round brilliance that units the scene for a sequence decider on the Oval.
And, whereas the final word result’s as but unknown, one factor is for certain: there isn’t any section of the sport, no ready interval, no lull when Ben Stokes is something lower than harmful.